Saturday 24 May 2014

A few thoughts on the Montreal Canadiens going forward in the playoffs

Dustin Tokarski
TOKARSKI: I would love to see the Montreal Canadiens defeat the New York Rangers on Sunday and even the series up. Rookie goalie Dustin Tokarski is such a "feel good" story.  If he can pick up where he left off and keep the Habs in the rest of the games they play, then it is likely that Peter Budaj will be put on the trading block this summer."

Ryan White
REPLACING PRUST: I beg Michel Therrien not to "bore" us and put Michael Bournival in the lineup. We need some muscle to replace the suspended Brandon Prust and it makes sense to put Ryan White back on the ice or at the very least Travis Moen. Bournival had a good start of the season, but really did nothing more than skate around the rest of the way. For some reason Therrien likes him.

Marc Bergevin

MARC BERGEVIN: Forgive me for raining on Habs GM Marc Bergevin's parade. He has done an "okay" job since assuming the helm of the team two years ago, but I believe we need to look at his entire record: signing Travis Moen to a four year, $7.4 million contract; David Desharnais to  a four year, $14 million deal; acquiring defenceman Davis Drew Drewiske from LA and signing him to a two year pact, when he was not needed; acquiring George Parros as a so-called tough guy when that part of his game was long gone. I will admit that obtaining Dale Weise and Mike Weaver near the trade deadline represented good moves. Trading Cedric Desjardins back to Tampa for Tokarski now looks a "genius" move. Despite the fact he is sitting out most of the playoffs, defenceman Douglas Murray brought some toughness to the team. But GM  of the Year? Give me a break!

Thursday 22 May 2014

An Officer and a Gentleman: St. George's head James A. Officer receives fitting tribute

When Jim Officer told me a few years ago that he planned to retire as Head of St. George’s School of Montreal once he handed his youngest daughter,  Eugénie, her high school diploma, it was very obvious what the theme would be for his well deserved gala farewell. For Jim is indeed  “An Officer and a Gentleman,” and last Wednesday evening at Le Windsor several hundred people applauded his 40 plus years as a seasoned educator.

You remember the movie and  that famous scene from the 1982 motion picture  An  Officer and a Gentleman, where Richard Gere marches into a factory and carries Debra Winger out in his arms to the tune of the hit Joe Cocker-Jennifer Warnes song  Up Where We Belong? Well, Jim did not quite do the same last week with his wife Nathalie Bossé, St. George’s Assistant Head of  Curriculum and CLE, but he did wear a white tuxedo jacket – similar to the Gere navy pilot character's neat white suit.

James Officer and his wife Nathalie Bossé
Officer has headed  St. George’s for the past 21 years, working for the former Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal and at McGill University before that.

Attendees at last week’s gala were greeted by a pack of “paparazzi," who were in fact St. George’s senior students acting proudly as volunteers for the event. Inside the grand halls of Le Windsor, attendees were then  invited to take a cutout picture with the guest of honour in front of a “step and repeat wall,” replete with the St. George’s logo and crest.
In addition to his wife and youngest daughter, Officer was accompanied to the gala by his  other children Jordan (an established musician), Laura (a St. George's Elementary teacher) and Sara and his brothers Douglas and Ian.

Anthony Wolfe, wife Reesa and the Officer cutout.

“During my 21 years at St. George’s, I have met and been inspired by over 2,000 exceptional students, many of whom have made an impressive mark on the world, and most of whom speak fondly of their days at St. George’s,” said Officer. “ I have had the privilege of meeting and befriending their families and remain awed to this day with our parents’ level of engagement, their willingness to volunteer and their financial generosity. I have worked alongside eight different board chairs, each with their own strengths, styles and personalities, yet all of whom held firm to our school’s mission and values."

The Donny Kennedy Trio.
The evening  featured  spectacular raffle prizes (including a trip for two to Las Vegas), a live jazz ensemble featuring St. George’s music teacher Donny Kennedy, open bar during the cocktail and dance, a delicious three-course dinner with wine, a sweet table and live entertainment by Meredith Marshall, a finalist on the French language TV show “La Voix.”

Colleen Wicha, mother of St. George’s Grade 11 student Nicholas Wicha and dubbed “Lady Gala,” served as the chairperson of the Tribute Gala Committee, and worked with a dedicated team of parent volunteers and staff to plan this special evening. They included fundraising guru Don Belec, Kathay Carson, Howard Dolman, Jason Finucan, Pam Itzcovitch, Allyson Kassie Goldberg (class of '94), Patricia Klein (class of '88),  Patricia Lavoie, Natalia Obando, François Prénovost, and incoming Board President Cheryl Weigensberg-Wood, who will succeed Louise Anne Poirier.

Officer will be succeeded on July 1 by Sharon Klein, currently Deputy Head of Education at Queen Margaret’s School in Duncan, BC. A lifelong learner, she is passionate about education, has built a reputation for community building and is widely respected by her peers as a collaborative leader. Fully aligned with St. George’s vision and mission, Ms. Klein embraces inquiry and reflection in education. She is an advocate of progressive and research-based education, and is committed to whole-child approaches in rigorous learning environments. In addition to being a truly inspiring educator, Ms. Klein is an outstanding athlete. She strives to empower each individual student to become a passionate leader.

The gala served as the launch for the James A. Officer Legacy 21 Campaign, which will enable the school to expand and renovate the learning spaces in the high school.  St. George’s operates elementary and high schools about a mile apart from each other on The Boulevard. Already, $750,000 has been raised for this campaign towards a goal of $1.5 million. Allyson Kassie  Goldberg, from the class of 1994 and a present-day parent, is chairing this initiative and working alongside Maureen and Jack Dym, Andrew Molson and Mirko Wicha The stunning Natalia Obando, the  parent of a Grade 10 student, served as the emcee for the evening. A former Columbian teenage talk show host, her past experience in show business was quite evident as she moved the evening along nicely.

Kassie Goldberg was unable to attend the gala, but produced a fabulous video which included a cameo appearance by actor Robert Redford (the real Robert Redford). Beatrice Lewis,  who served as Assistant Head of School for the Elementary Campus, made an outstanding tribute to Officer and recalled the time when he was hired. “The year was 1993,” she said. “St. George’s was looking for a Head of School. There had been many changes of Heads in the 70’s and 80’s and stability and long-range planning were now priorities. The Search Committee, of which I was one of the members, compiled a list of job responsibilities and personal qualities felt to be crucial for a Head of School. Our wish list was endless. We wanted someone who was a visionary leader, a pedagogue, a person with experience in administration, recruitment, admissions, human resources, development, marketing, finance and building and grounds. The candidate had to have excellent leadership, management and communication skills and have outstanding personal qualities.....everything from being trustworthy, compassionate, flexible, creative, etc.  Many of us questioned as to whether such a person had yet to be born! St.  George’s was indeed looking for its Saint!”

Beatrice Lewis
Lewis noted how after a rigorous interview process  Officer was hired. “With a tenure that lasted 21 years, St. George’s certainly had the stability, the leadership and the professionalism we were seeking,” she said. “From day one on the job, Jim lived and breathed the St. George’s philosophy. His dedication to the school was unwavering, his work ethic was incredible and he was a man of many abilities."

Under  Officer’s leadership, St. George’s became a lead school in Quebec in the areas of curriculum development, the application of technology in education, the promotion of professional development and environmental initiatives. As well, partnerships with universities, the Montreal Neurological and other institutes were created. “Recruitment and admissions were areas in which Jim excelled,” Lewis noted. “For many years, he personally met with each family and each student applying to the high school. Jim’s passion for the school was contagious. It is not easy to get a 12 year old to open up during an interview, but Jim managed to make that personal connection with each student. St. George’s became the school of choice for many families.”

Officer is an extremely personable individual. And while this evening had a Hollywood theme, the guest of honor really showed his acting chops in a hilarious video spoof on the motion picture Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It began with Director of Student Life Daniel Boyer getting a call from a seemingly ill Officer, stating that he could not come to work. “He bought it,” Officer said to the camera. What followed were a series of  sequences of him circulating around town on his bicyle and his car. Below is the actual video.

Adam Greenberg, known to listeners of 925 The Beat FM as TB1,  performed a special rap for Officer to the tune of Will Smith’s Fresh Prince of Bel Air classic. He was a graduate from the class of 2004. TB1 hosts his show on Friday and Saturday evenings and is a noted deejay.

Later Lee Haberkorn, a  2002 grad, did a tribute of his own. Lee is currently the managing director of the St. James Theatre in Old Montreal, director of communications at the Rialto Theatre and the weekend producer for the Virgin Radio morning show. He  shared an anecdote of how he once won a principal for a day contest and what a  good sport Officer was. “I showed up in a full suit, ordered pizza for the school and skipped a few classes,” he said, noting that conversely Officer stepped into the role of a student.

Hal Hannaford, the headmaster at rival Selwyn House, gave a very entertaining speech and spoke of his history with Officer at the level of the Canadian Accredited Independent Schools and the Quebec Association of Independent Schools.

Ken Salomon, a 1964 grad of St. George’s and chairman of the board from 1989 to 1994, introduced the guest of honour. He was seated at table with many of  his classmates from 50 years ago – a pretty smart idea for a high school reunion.

Following a prolonged standing ovation, Officer spoke. He emphasized how overwhelmed he was by the evening, which started with a surprise limousine ride to Le Windsor. “We are a great school because of a passionate and dedicated faculty, our exceptional students and their families,” he said. “We have remarkably connected parents.”

What will Officer do in retirement. He speaks fondly of his farm,  where he already spends a lot of time. For starters, he will oversee this summer’s activities of the hugely successful Explorations camp. The McGill program is moving from Royal Vale School to St. George’s. He will remain connected with St. George’s alumni affairs, their international programs and of course the Legacy 21 Campaign.

When all was said and done, Officer helped form a congo line and danced with friends, family and colleagues to the tune of the Pharrell Williams hit song Happy. There was no Joe Cocker/Jennifer Warnes song.

An Officer and a Gentleman indeed. Good luck Jim!